More of a mystery than a horror novel, Dolores Claiborne contains only the briefest glances at the supernatural. The novel presents Stephen King as a writer experimenting with style and narrative, time and perspective. Fans looking for a skin-crawling, page-turning fright or an undead bloodbath will be disappointed, but a patient reader willing to savor King's leisurely study of character and island life will find many rewards. And all of this is not to say that the book is without suspense.
The story unfolds in one continuous chapter, told in the first person by the cranky, 65-year-old housekeeper, Dolores, who is explaining to police officers and a stenographer how and why she killed her husband, Joe, 30 years ago. At the same time, in her rambling monologue, she insists that she did not kill her longtime employer, Vera Donovan--notwithstanding what the residents of Little Tall Island may be whispering. Joe was a drinker, and, as Dolores gradually argues, he deserved to die for the horrifying crimes he committed against his family. But Vera, despite her cantankerous disposition as a lady governing her decaying estate with her precise rules about even the most mundane household chore ("Six pins! Remember to use six pins! Don't you let the wind blow my good sheets down to the corner of the yard!"), was a good woman--or at least not an evil one. She was the woman who hired the young Dolores and kept her on even after Dolores got pregnant again. Dolores cleaned and cared for her even as the old matron faded into senility.
Dolores Claiborne is a rich novel that recalls the regionalist writing of the turn of the century. It is a fine place for a skeptical newcomer--put off by King's reputation for outright terror--to start. And for fans, it is a book that offers new insights into an author who's an old favorite. --Patrick O'Kelley